The murder spree of Aaron Alexis
in Washington this week lasted around five and a half hours. Ten years ago next month, another mass murderer was on the loose here. The Washington Sniper was actually two people - a man and a teenage boy - and their crimes were committed over a wide geographical area as well as over a period of three weeks, which if anything made the horror even worse because no one knew who would be targeted next.
Also known as the Beltway Sniper, John Allen Muhammad had served in the military, about the only thing he had in common with Alexis. While clearly Alexis had mental health issues, the same excuse cannot be made for Muhammad.
His motivation is not entirely clear; some have suggested that he hated white people, but his victims were not all white; three of the ten killed were women, and one of them was a 13 year old boy, who is believed to have been targeted deliberately to taunt the authorities. It is more likely that Muhammad was simply angry at the world; it has also been suggested that he intended to murder his ex-wife Mildred, and that the other killings were mere distractions.
Muhammad's partner-in-crime Lee Boyd Malvo was born in Jamaica; the two met in the Caribbean, and soon became inseparable. When a youth and an older man strike up a close relationship, one possibility is of course that this is another case of the love
that dare not speak its name. That was not the case here, Muhammad had two daughters and a son by his second wife, and he clearly missed John Junior, who has now changed his name
Last year, Malvo said he had been sexually abused by Muhammad
, but no credence should be given to that claim. Look at the above photograph, does it remind you of Oscar Wilde and his catamite Lord Alfred Douglas, or of a father and son at a celebration or social event?
Though Muhammad did corrupt Malvo, their deeds were far darker than mere perverted sex. As with those other notorious killer couples Brady and Hindley
or Fred and Rose West
, Malvo was both the junior partner and a more than willing accomplice.
Because of the apparent randomness of the crimes, the authorities were wrong-footed; among other things there was a strong possibility of a terrorist group being responsible (don't forget, this was little more than a year after 9/11
); there was also the usual psychobabble from so-called profilers about the perpetrator being a white male, but anyone who commits murder after murder in such a short space of time - five on October 3 - in a relatively small geographical area, and mostly in broad daylight, will leave a trail of evidence, even if he doesn't, there will be so much manpower put on the case that something damning will come to light sooner rather than later.
In this case, the perpetrators were arrested after a tip off from a member of the public, but by then they had already been identified.
John Allen Muhammad was executed for his crimes in November 2009. Actually he was tried for the murder of his seventh murder victim of this spree, Dean Meyers, for which he was sentenced to death. He was then tried for six more murders, those of the Maryland victims for which he was given six life sentences. His execution was uncharacteristically prompt in a country where a death sentence can mean a stay of ten, even twenty or more years on death row.
Probably because he was a juvenile, Malvo did not receive the death penalty
, although he will almost certainly never be released. The two definitely committed other murders, including of a young woman named Claudine Parker in Montgomery, Alabama the previous month. There are a number of documentaries about the Washington Sniper killings on YouTube. There is also the full length dramatisation D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear
which subjugates the usual "artistic licence" to historical accuracy. Doubtless Aaron Alexis will receive the same treatment in due course.